A foul smell emanating from St. Vincent

The draft, mini-camp, and even the preseason workouts are a time for optimism. The Super Bowl victory for New England fades and every team has a fighting chance, sitting at 0-0 like everyone else. But there is a problem emerging for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the worst kind of issue for a team charged with carrying out the wishes of Bill Cowher and Dick LeBeau.

Okay, camp just started and the world is raving about WR Plaxico Burress' recommitment to the game. Maybe Spike can flip a switch and go Pro Bowl, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are still about defense.

What were the top 5 off-season moves for the Steelers? Few would leave the hiring of defensive coordinator off of that list. Dick LeBeau understands Blitzburgh, and those that have followed this scheme through the years know it boils down to the talent at linebacker.

While the secondary is being remade, some have forgotten what makes Bill Cowher's and LeBeau's defense go round. It is all about the pressure.

Boo Bell started in the secondary for the Steelers during the 1995 Super Bowl run, working under both defensive minds, "It's a pressure defense and when you get that type of pressure up there, you don't have to cover for more than three or four seconds. Even if the corner has good coverage and the pressure doesn't get there in that amount of time, the fire zones break down."

Some folks talk about the ability of the corners to cover in man in order for LeBeau's scheme to work. That's true to some extent, but the real key is creating a one-on-one match up for a rusher, which is why anything but max-protect might put your quarterback's career in jeopardy.

"Offenses are playing stupid against it," former NFL head coach Sam Wyche once said about the zone blitz. "They're lining up five wide receivers and getting quarterbacks pounded."

LeBeau's main philosophy is to disguise the rush package. You never know who is rushing and who is in coverage, until it is too late.

Early on in the 1996 season, LeBeau and Cowher threw a 1-3-7 scheme at Vinny Testaverde, then the QB of the Baltimore Ravens.

"It's just speed, the deployment of people,'' Cowher explained. "Just kind of throw a bunch of bodies out there and if they all look like the same number, they're not sure who's coming and who's not. That's the basic premise behind it, without being specific." Still, you need a lot of players that can rush AND cover, not do one or the other well.

The Steelers would seem to be heading in the right direction in terms of the secondary. In Ricardo Colclough, Chris Hope, Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, and even Chad Scott, the Steelers have DBs with the speed to blitz and cover, but also the size and strength to tackle.

But are the right LBs in place?

The proud defense of 2001 was all about stopping the run. According to TwoMinuteWarning.com, teams ran the ball against the Steelers 58% on first down during the 1999 season, and 57% of the time during the 2000 season.

But that all changed in 2001 (45%) and 2002 (42%), when the opposition all but gave up trying to run the ball against a stout front 7. Instead, they attacked the linebacker-like DBs and enjoyed measured success.

How did the Steelers respond?

The personnel really didn't change all that much, but the scheme did. The Steelers began employing a nickel scheme, which essentially dared teams to run the ball.

And run the ball they did, 54% of the time on first down during the 2003 season.

What has happened over the last few years is that the Steelers are putting more and more people in coverage, instead of rushing them. And in order to get better coverage guys, they give up something against the run.

And suddenly, with the return of LeBeau, the Steelers are supposed to return to Blitzburgh.

With the way the off-season and camp has gone thus far, perhaps we will see a 3-1-7.

Clearly missing from the glory days of LeBeau's and Cowher's rush schemes are the great linebackers.

If NT Casey Hampton is to be believed, along with those early camp reports from Jim Wexell and Dale Lolley here at SteelCitySports.com, he'll start along side Aaron Smith in a 2-4-5 nickel scheme that will get a great deal of field time.

Such a gambit would make sense if your personnel weakness on defense is the line, which does lack depth, and an undersized defensive backfield, which really isn't the case. The Steelers have better linebackers at safety than they do at linebacker.

Meanwhile, back at St. Vincent, the poor man's Marcus Washington is out with broken fingers, Mr. Back-Flip-After-Gassers isn't getting enough water after pulling his groin in his sleep, and Alonzo "Flop" Jackson still has only one move to get the QB, just good enough to beat The Undertaker.

Such desperate times allow Bengal castoff LB Adrian Ross to mull over his options concerning an offer from the front office in Pittsburgh. James Farrior gets contract-3 and a failed rushing end experiment quietly tries to regain his rookie glory.

Both Cowher and LeBeau have been heard to say that you fit your scheme to your personnel and go with your strength. Right now, the linebacking corps does not look so hot. Certainly, they posed little rush threat last year, though the DBs couldn't be counted on to hold coverage for all that long.

Getting more safeties and corners on the field sounds like a good idea, but at the expense of the numbers at LB, not on the DL.

Kevin Greene may be back in camp, but the Steelers would be much better off giving up the ghost.

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